GETTING PHYSICAL ACTIVITY ON THE MENTAL HEALTH/WELLNESS RADAR

I received an invitation to attend a workshop addressing the mental health of K-12 students tri-sponsored by the local school district, county public health department, and a university teaching preparation program (all located in a prominent west coast city).
The beautiful flyer described the breakout sessions—bullying and cyberbullying, suicide prevention, lgbtq students, depression, tobacco prevention, adolescent development—but NOTHING about physical activity.
Respecting the complexity of mental health, regular physical activity can catalyze emotional well-being (and positively impact each of the workshop topics). From producing endorphins, burning anxiety, enhancing a sense of satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive body image, to sharpening clarity and analytical reasoning, physical activity can uniquely and profoundly optimize mental/emotional function.

One very brief phone call revealed it simply didn’t occur to the organizing committee to include it! Yikes! After a bit of ponder, here is one explanation and its take away.

In general, this region has provided decades of deficient school-based physical activity programming. Of course, there are pockets where it’s amazing, but more so it’s lousy (state policy doesn’t help). The majority of the workshop organizers are products of the local school district, thus were subjected to poor quality physical activity programming. Fast forward several years and knowing these folks, they are overweight and struggle to get ANY exercise, much less sustain a habit. Early positive physical activity experiences set the stage for a lifelong habit, and the sad converse, early poor experiences dissuade subsequent participation by choking motivation. The message is, we can’t afford to provide less than QUALITY school-based physical activity programming.

(In general) This region is now replete with (several generations of) adults who have under-developed physical activity portfolios (‘Iron Footprints’), lack the motivation to sustain regular exercise, and all-together just don’t ‘get’ physical activity, literally or figuratively. Net/net, as the response I received indicates, it’s simply not on their radar.

While recognizing as adults we are all responsible for our own wellbeing, and there isn’t anything that will correct the ills of early experiences, it’s well in our hands to make sure we don’t lose any more generations. Advocate for, and make sure your school’s activity programming is quality. If it’s not on the radar get it there.

BASKETBALL BANNED

March with its NCAA ‘madness’ is usually prime basketball time, but it ran hot during the widely-viewed NBA playoffs and hard to avoid coverage of the LA Clipper’s owner/soon-to-be-ex-owner situation.

Perhaps a coincidence, basketball is also a topic-du-jour at several urban elementary schools of a prominent west coast city, where teachers have banned it from their school’s playground feeling it fosters false hopes for fame and riches and promotes ‘neighborhood behavior’ (social irresponsibility), which taken in sum diminishes the value kids place on education.

These schools have silenced the otherwise playground staple of basketballs thumpa-thumping on the blacktop. Respecting the complexity of the sociocultural dynamics, what’s to be made of the decision?

Teachers are often hard-wired to affect the here-and-now because that’s what they have. They can’t recreate their kids’ past, nor beyond influence really control their future. Teachers have what’s in front of them in real time, which also means a lingering wonder if what they start by way of education will see a successful finish.

The good one’s get this and with urgency run with it, for they understand the odds are stacked against the kids. Even with far more good than not occurring in these schools and (sadly unnoticed) brilliant teaching, similar to other urban school districts, this one’s graduation rate hovers around 30 percent. Out of a typical 24-student 1st grade class, 8 will walk across a high school graduation stage.

Adding another layer to the circumstance, many kids share the teachers’ here-and-now sentiment. Especially in underserved communities, too many kids only know here-and-now because unpredictability is their normal. A successful finish – using education to build a satisfying, quality life is unimaginable.

Circling back to basketball, the elementary teachers who banned it take issue for wondering to what end the kids are playing, and feel its lure of fame and fortune sabotages their efforts to instill the value of education. Since just a minuscule few realize the finish of playing professional basketball, they even more fight the sentiment from the kids that education is unnecessary. It’s also not lost on them that the NCAA trend of one-and-done fortifies the education-as-obsolete attitude.

Surmounting an effort to match the culturally iconic NBA…and the NCAA! You gotta love their… “gumption” (we will keep it g-rated).

It’s pointless to disparage any entity here. The NBA is exploding in popularity across the globe (and strongly committed to social goodwill), NCAA basketball for both men and women has never been stronger (and student-athletes DO graduate), elementary teachers WILL inherit the earth, and kids are amazingly resilient and with but a glimmer of hope and pathway in place ought to have money put on them.

But it is a wake-up call for the NBA and NCAA. No one wants it banned from the very platform that has enabled its prominence. Understand the dynamics and (continue to) message the importance of (finishing) education. This is your here-and-now.

Oh, and you really don’t want these elementary teachers to come calling.

If we build it they will come – IF WE GROW IT THEY WILL EAT IT

The numbers are in folks and the news is good:
a) in schools where it is offered, students eat more fruits and vegetables
b) healthy snacks sell just as well if not better than unhealthy snacks at schools
c) schools that abide by strong nutrition standards are aiding the fight against childhood obesity

a + b + c = healthy(ier) kids!

We can’t stop now. The initiatives in place to improve the nutritional intake of our kids ARE working. We can’t give up. Maybe not the first time they see it, but kids WILL eat fruits and vegetables.

Where it’s being grown, it’ being eaten.

THE OTHER 15 HOURS OF THE DAY…

Did you get your daily workout done? Excellent! Now what other physical activity have you done today?

Going to the gym contributes to your active lifestyle, but alone doesn’t mean you live actively.
Just a reminder that a physically active lifestyle means physical activity is a feature of it. Said otherwise, past the hour you spend at the gym and eight hours you spend sleeping (ok, six), make it priority to be active throughout the other 15 hours of the day.

One, it’s a quality of life thing. Exercise uniquely and profoundly makes you better—stronger, sharper, calmer, more reasonable, more analytical—whether it’s 10 minutes of walking before (and after) a conference call or 60 minutes of body pump class.

Two, it’s a resilient motivation thing. The more activity you accumulate, the more you will want to accumulate from the well-being it evokes. The sustaining power strengthens each time you add to it.

What you do during the day past sleeping and getting to the gym dictates your wellness as much as…sleeping and getting to the gym. Kind of like credit card rewards where you get two airline miles for each one dollar you spend, prioritizing activity during the other 15 hours pays off!

WE ARE FAT…BUT IT’S CORRECTABLE!

It’s official: the world is fat, fatness is now a greater health challenge than hunger, and playing the lead role is none other than the US. Statistically, we are the fattest nation of our fat world. Great. Not a world ranking we want.

Step one to addressing a problem is admitting it exists. While I can’t speak for all 300,000,000+ of us, it works in our favor that the problem isn’t lost on many. So, step two is taking steps to correct it…pun intended.

In the scheme of wellness-degrading conditions, obesity/overweight is a very correctable problem. If each of us took a 10-minute walk right now, in 10 minutes we would be on our way to changing our health-related fate, and world ranking.

Yep, that’s how correctable this fatness thing is. Who’s in? 10 minutes of walking a day if you are just getting started, and then 10,000 steps every day once you have built your stamina.

Remember, with just ONE 10-minute bout we change our wellness trajectory – c’mon, and change yours right now!

HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCH SUPPORT YANKED

HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCH SUPPORT YANKED

Here’s a question – why in the name of serving the public good would politicians bandwagon opposition to a SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN SUCCESSFUL initiative that aids the well-being of kids?

Regardless of the side of the aisle in which you align, the well-being of our kids SEEMS to be a fundamental decision making metric since ‘making the world a better place for our kids’ is consistently messaged.

Really?! I guess for some this is just baseless rhetoric since as push has come to shove, a push that WORKS was shoved, rather shelved for reasons that scream ‘that’s politics.’

If you are not up to speed, certain politicians have recently pushed back against the initiative to improve school lunch nutrition as intervention to childhood obesity citing allegiance with school personnel who say they are losing money because the kids don’t like the ‘good’ food, thus don’t take it. And this on the heels of recent data showing that the condition has improved in hard hit New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia due to umbrella intervention that intentionally improved school-based nutrition.

Perception being reality, the push back is shameful for bundling the kids as scapegoats with twisted empathy. ‘Our bad for subjecting you to those icky vegetables—What were we thinking?—here is all that saturated fat and sodium back.’ Of course, the push back explanation is thinly veiled to begin with since food industry lobbyists are no doubt tightening the vice to protect established subsidies, etc., but I digress.

The real damage comes from the message that underlies caving to the kids’ claims of ‘it’s yucky.’ For the vast majority of us, the first encounter with say okra or eggplant was a challenge, but over time we developed a welcoming palate. The message here is ‘They won’t ever develop the capacity to make healthy nutrition choices so we may as well stop trying now.’

Doesn’t that just ooze with hope for this generation’s kids?! Not to mention, the schools exemplified in the push back rationale are mainly urban, mainly minority — the same demographic already disparately affected by obesity.

Airing overdramatic video of kids ceremoniously dumping their uneaten ‘good’ but ‘icky’ food into school cafeteria trash bins is both exaggerated and deceitful (btw, to make these clips seem more authentic, next time have the kids rehearse less). Compelling evidence shows that given the chance, kids WILL make and sustain lifestyle changes that include eating healthy food, which in the scheme of things, exemplifies an underlying pillar of the political party that yanked support for the initiative. Self-management, meaning less government oversight on our lifestyle, is among the main tenets of this party’s platform.

Like onions that have many smelly layers, this push back gets smellier the deeper the dig. Circling back to serving the greater good, so much for the world you have just degraded for literally millions of kids. Using their vernacular, giving up on them really sucks!

‘BATHING SUIT SEASON’ – RECLAIM THE EXCITEMENT

Yep, its here. We have hit Memorial Day, which means – the 2014 Bathing Suit Season has officially begun.

Remember as a kid how exciting it was to put your bathing suit on? Mostly, because it meant fun activities were to follow. Swimming, of course, but also running through the sprinkler, slip-n-sliding, playing on a beach, going boating…

Then something changed. Over time, the excitement about what you were about to do turned into anxiety about how you looked. Yikes!

Well, there is no better time than today to reclaim its excitement. Bring on bathing suit season but as it was when you were a kid. Make peace with the enemy, by actually using it for what it’s meant for. You still have to wait an hour after you eat before swimming…

REPURPOSE YOUR COOL DOWN

Recent research suggests a post-exercise cool down has scant effect on preventing muscle soreness. The take away message — don’t bother cooling down — is outrageous if not sacrilegious to many of us, after all, common sense correctly tells us to not end exercise abruptly. But of the take away to this emerging science, lets peel a layer or two since its premise is faulty for being shallow.

For one, the (temporary) soreness that can accompany exercise ought to be welcomed since micro tears to muscles that actually catalyze tissue strengthening induce it. Net/net, embrace soreness for the muscular gain it is signaling!

Further, a cool down offers benefit that transcends physiological consideration. A few minutes of walking after cardio or weights gets the attention of your motivation by recognizing the achievement of completing your workout, or relishing any personal benchmarks or the satisfaction of having done a new activity.

Considering exercise’s unique and profound impact on our wellbeing, each completed workout bears celebration as a stand-alone, and for how celebration sustains our motivation to do the same tomorrow, and many tomorrows after.

Repurpose your cool down by using it to bask in your achievement, and then welcome the soreness that’s about to make your quads sing.

FRIDAY FOOTPRINT FLASH – THE HEART OF THE MATTER

FOR your heart, running is the same as walking is the same as cycling is the same as basketball, is the same as…a gazillion other forms of activity.

IN your heart, different forms of activity are rank ordered according to what feeds your physical activity soul.

In a perfect world, your engagement in FOR is a neat and tidy expression of IN. A romanticist might dreamingly say it’s a natural force that draws our energy toward a particular activity form… But a humanist—the kind with two kids, a dog, and a demanding job—might say riiiight, meaning wrong, for IN is ultimately where the realities of time and place intersect, meaning yours is 5pm spin, or 7pm yoga, or 6am boot camp, or your mapped out 5-mile run.

Considering slammed schedules leaving few slivers open to exercise and the gym opportunistic for how it offers hourly programming, the ‘chosen’ form of engagement is the class scheduled during the sliver you can attend. Net/net, your exercise expression is more defined by the gym’s fitness class scheduler than impelled by intuitive force, so until the kids are grown, or the job settles (ha!) you may have to sacrifice the IN for the just-get-it-done of the FOR.

Ahh, so be it. Consistently doing the FOR will ensure that when you get to do the IN it will, I dare say, be to your heart’s content.

FRIDAY FOOTPRINT FLASH – It’s the simple things

Headline: Obesity rates are lower for cities in which more residents walk or bike to work than cities whose residents use less active transport.

While this is no surprise to anyone hip to obesity’s relationship with exercise (but the more correlation-strengthening data the merrier), it reinforces the notion that physical activity-preventing obesity doesn’t have to be fancy — or require a gym membership or special machines or special clothes/equipment (less a bike of course)…

Not to say that active transport is without challenge—safe routes, change of clothes, the elements, etc—and it may simply be impractical in certain situations, but as evidenced by the data, it seems the challenges can be overcome.

Active transport aids to combat obesity, but its big picture benefit is even more significant. Since healthy behavior begets healthy behavior, walking to work can catalyze a string of additional health-enhancing lifestyle modifications. The important take away is each step you take to, literally, walk to work entices other health-enhancing steps to follow.

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